Montana Should Set Goals for Long-Term, Sustainable Growth

By Beacon Staff

It’s easy to be a pessimist these days when you hear about job losses, bailouts and other bad economic news. Many Montanans are starting to feel the real effects of this worldwide fiscal downturn.

Montana, however, is actually doing better than the rest of the country. At the moment, it looks like we may be one of only a handful of states where our state government does not have massive deficits. Our unemployment level is lower, our foreclosure rate is lower and many of our businesses are in a better position to weather this storm compared to others in the country.

Our state has always had a rollercoaster of sorts for its economic history. This should be the time when we pause and consider how we can create long-term, sustainable growth for our future. Despite the latest round of national uncertainties, there is one word that keeps coming to my mind: Opportunity.

Over the past year and a half, the Montana Chamber of Commerce has been putting together a legislative roadmap for long-term, sustainable growth. We’re calling it the Montana Prosperity Plan. It’s basically an economic stimulus package for our state, which contains proactive ideas that will make Montana an even better place to do business.

The key elements of the plan center on the issues important to Montana businesses and Montana families: our tax system needs to be simpler and less burdensome; we must make healthcare more accessible for working Montanans; we need to get our workers’ compensation premiums under control and make our workplaces safer for employees; and Montana needs to develop more of its natural resources like coal, oil and gas, timber, minerals, wind, and additional sources of energy.

The Montana Chamber recently conducted its annual poll of 600 Montana voters (4.1% margin of error), and the results showed they were anxious to move forward with the ideas contained in the Montana Prosperity Plan.

According to these Montanans, job creation and increased wages are the top priority for the next legislative session at 31 percent. Put this together with the 19 percent who cited development and business growth and you get a full half of those voters surveyed who mention economic issues as their top legislative priority.

As in prior surveys, the poll also showed Montanans want to see more business growth, especially in high-wage businesses like the natural resource industries. For example, a record 75 percent of Montana voters want the state to encourage more timber, mining, oil and gas development, while only 14 percent are opposed. Additionally, a strong 76 percent favor new development of coal-powered electrical generation to provide more long-term, low-cost energy for the state.

Don’t get me wrong – the road ahead will be bumpy for Montanans as we weather this storm of economic uncertainty. But I believe we can take some positive steps forward this next year to put our state in a good place to move towards long-term, sustainable growth.

You can view the Montana Prosperity Plan at the Montana Chamber Web site (www.montanachamber.com). Then, contact your legislator and let them know that you want them to support more job creation, more responsible resource development, and to support business in our state.

Dan Bartel is Vice-Chair over Government Relations for the Montana Chamber of Commerce and owner/operator of several Ace Hardware stores in Montana.